Leadership accountability is a vital component in any organization. For an organization to achieve its set goals and objectives efficiently and effectively leaders have to be responsible of actions taken or failure to take action. A leader must be competent in decision making and skillful so as to achieve success in their places of work.
Legal accountability refers to the many forms of legal compliance, formal disclosure or specific reporting that organizations are required to complete (Jones, 2000). In any organizational setting there are set laws that govern its activities and these laws must be observed and obeyed. Failure to obey may lead to lawsuits in court. In a school setting laws are formulated from different sources which include federal, state and local (Kelly, 1998). These laws govern the running of schools.
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A legal system is usually put in place to ensure safe environment for those that are targeted. When a school fails to provide a safe environment to students according to the law the court intervenes (Shoop and Dunklee, 2005). The most important thing is to have procedures of handling a situation in place because the court will question on how adequate the school response was to a particular issue. Professionals in any field always try to be exceptional in their work trying to avoid making decisions that may eventually lead to a harmful event. However, no matter how hard they try they will always find themselves in situations that they did not intend to happen. It is therefore very important for leaders to be ready for such instances and respond adequately according to standards within which they should perform their duties. Essentially, everyone is a leader but some are given titles because of the positions they hold in their places of work. In a school setting there are school administrators and principles who manage and run the school.
The principle has a huge responsibility in being legally accountable when leading in a school. Students’ best interests should always be placed first and so are their needs. With regard to students needs and right to be protected while in school, administrators are faced with a wide array of issues that may lead to litigation if the laws that govern them are not observed and obeyed. These issues include: maintaining order and discipline; school safety and supervision; discrimination and harassment; counseling; health services; use of technology among others (Kelly, 1998). The bottom-line is that principles should be accountable and responsible for everything that happens in the school. In Saudi Arabia school administrators more or less face the same issues.
The principle should ensure that order is maintained in school as well as high levels of discipline (Leading and Managing the School, 2000). Codes of acceptable behavior should be developed and made available to all students. A disciplinary committee is also very essential to deal with all cases of indiscipline. When students go against set behavior codes they should appear before the committee. Depending on the magnitude of the issue one may be asked to write and apology letter and if there is enough reason to suspend or expel a student then the board can do so. Everything should be documented in writing and parents should be made aware of what happened. At any one time students should be protected in that, anyone who is likely to cause harm to students should not be admitted to a school. The school principle should also inform guardians or parents in situations where a student has violated school set rules and guidelines. If there are no codes of conduct in place or documentation of violation of such codes by a student parents may accuse the school if a child suspended or expelled.
School attendance is very crucial and a principal can assign the duty of keeping track of attendance record to the class teacher. However, it is up to the principle to address any attendance problems when they arise to ensure students do not miss out. Students’ records must be protected. In situations where a student has a case in court his/her records should never be produced by the school to be used as evidence in court. If this were to happen a lawsuit might be filed against the school.
Regarding school safety, every school has a duty to protect their students. They should have a procedure on how to respond to crisis situations, a safety plan and safety committee. It is the schools responsibility to safeguard students against any harmful intrusion. We have heard many cases where an outraged shooter entered a school compound and held hostage a class and even killed a student. It is crucial to have a security system installed and security guards employed. Everyone entering a school compound should be screened to avoid such situations. If a school fails to enforce such rules they might find themselves being sued. When a student behavior becomes a threat to the school in any way he/she can be suspended and eventually expelled where no efforts are made to rectify the behaviour that led to suspension.
A school principle has a responsibility to supervise students when they are out of class for example, when they go for field trips or during lunchtime. This is very important especially in case of an accident. If the supervision role is neglected, and an accident happens then there will be a problem. Usually when an accident occurs guardians/parents wants to get full details of what happened, how it happened and why it happened. Parents will often file a case against the school using negligence as the reason as to why an accident occurred. This is very common in schools. The accident should be put in written form that gives an account of what happened. All students should be made aware of unsafe zones in the school compound and if possible a sign should be put in place with words such as ‘out of bound’ or ‘dangerous zone’. If an accident happens out of neglect by a supervisor such a case can be filed in court. In my school one student had an accident while playing in the school sports ground. She broke her arm. The teacher who was supervising quickly attended to the issue and took the girl to the school nurse. The teacher wrote a report and gave it to the principle who later informed the parent what had happened.
More often than not principles or school administrators make decisions that other staff find wanting while that was not their intention. In such cases the principles are criticized and they sometimes retaliate by taking actions such as transferring teachers to other schools or dismissing them. When teachers are airing issues of public concern they have a right to do so. Principles and school leaders should be ready to accept criticism after which they present the facts regarding an issue if it is false or take action to deal with the issue of concern if it is true(Hammond, 1991 ). Principles should not take actions that it taken to court would question their motives; rather they should be responsible in dealing with a problem of this nature. Leaders should develop a good communication structure where teachers, parents and students feel free to air their views and how they feel about decisions that have been made by those in leadership position. This way, problems can be dealt with before they escalate to a level where they end up in court. Good leadership accepts criticism and deals with issues raised, to ensure success in their institution. There will always be problems in schools and the principle has a responsibility to put in place a grievance procedure to deal with such problems before they become a public affair and eventually litigation. Everyone’s views and concerns should be heard and addressed.
Such cases always happen at my work place, teachers always complain about decisions made but my principle is the kind of a leader who listens to everyone’s opinions and views and during meeting teachers are given an opportunity to raise issues of concern which are then dealt with.
In classrooms the teachers are better placed to manage and organize all the activities involved. In such cases the administrator takes a supervisory role. Different issues are involved in organization and management which include organizational issues, management issues and educational malpractice issues (Kelly 1998). While organizing students in a classroom, teachers have a responsibility to ensure that such grouping puts into consideration racial groups and should at all cost avoid groupings that perpetuate segregation. Students with special needs should also be considered and if a school can not adequately meet the need of such students they should be placed in schools where their special needs are met with. Principles in schools where special education is provided to students with disabilities should be aware of laws within which they should perform.
Other than grouping, retention and promotion of students is another contentious issue in management. The criteria used should include all dimensions of a student and should not be limited to exams at the end of a course work. However, most teachers fall victim and forget to look into the students age, intelligence, ability and training while promoting or retaining students (Kelly, 2000). For a school to succeed in producing students who will be the crème of the society it must ensure that teachers are competent in all areas including discipline. There should be set standards of how teachers should carry themselves when they are within the school environment and how they should relate with students. More often we have heard cases where teacher have abused students even sexually while sexual relationships with students are prohibited. Teachers should also have effective teaching methods for example, having schemes of work in place as well as lesson plans and being co-operative with the principles and other teachers. If a teacher is proven to be incompetent it is enough ground to dismiss a teacher. It is important to put in place evaluation tools for teachers to keep track of improvement or areas that need more training.
School curriculums are another issue of great concern. Curriculums are developed to determine topics that are taught in different subjects for example topics in mathematics, English History etc. More often students may find some topics hard to grasp and some refuse to take them or their parents advice them not to. In such instances a school administration can expel a student. The only time a student may not be expelled is when refusal to take certain topic is due to religious values. Teachers are expected to adhere to approved school curriculums and retrain from teaching irrelevant subjects. For example if it was an election year a teacher may be tempted to bring politics in class. This is only allowed if and only if this is related to the subject matter in the topic. Some teachers use offensive language in class, school administration should have clear guidelines on acceptable language. In case a teacher needs to use a film in class for educational purpose it is good to preview to ensure they do not cross-boundaries. Teachers are role models and should uphold good morals and values for their students to emulate.
Another major issue that faces school administrators is the issue of discrimination coupled with harassment and bullying. Administrators should be aware that such behaviours are unlawful and should not be condoned. Besides addressing these issues, principles should ensure that students are taught about them so that they are made aware that discrimination, harassment or bullying is inappropriate and unlawful (Archdiocese of Canbera and Goulburn Education Office, 2007). Under no circumstances should an administrator discriminate against a teacher or any employee and they might be sued if they do so.
According to Archdiocese of Canbera and Goulburn Education office (2007) any form of child abuse or suspected child abuse should be reported. School staff needs to be aware of their duty to report because they spend considerable amount of time with children. They are mandated to report to the relevant authority in this case the child welfare authority. When it comes to family issues principles and teachers should be aware of the children’s rights regarding this issue. If there are problems going on at home the teachers are likely to know about it. Students might share with teachers or teachers may suspect depending on how a student behaves or if performance in class is deteriorating. Without proper parenting and a stable family setting students may not be in a position to exploit their full potential, leading to substandard performance in their studies.
Another major issue that administrators’ are faced with is drug possession and use by students. School rules should create awareness among students that drugs are not allowed in school. However, drug abuse is happening in our schools. Principals guide on drugs, legal issues and schools (2000) assists principles in dealing with drug related issues. According to the principles guide (2000) the school has a duty to protect students and should therefore inform a police officer if there are cases of possession, distribution or use of drugs. Parents also do have a responsibility to report such cases. To curb the problem of drug abuse in school it would be necessary to include in the curriculum, education on drug and substance abuse and consequences of the same. When people are knowledgeable about something they make informed decision. If students become aware that drugs will harm and destroy them they will become cautious. Counseling services should be made available to students who are already addicted to drugs and to all students as well.
The issue of drugs in schools brings up another important issue: counseling in the school setting. Counselors are expected to observe ethical standards and work within laws formulated regarding their practice. There are both legal and ethical issues in counseling. In differentiating between the two Huey and Remly (1990) define legal standards as the accepted professional practices in the community while ethical standards are more idealistic and accepted by other professionals in the field.
In case a child requires psychological testing, or treatment a written parental consent is required and it is the counselors responsibility to ensure that such tests are; not discriminative to anyone in the school population, valid and reliability, appropriate for the purposes for which they are being used and necessary to achieve the objective of the school (Huey & Remley, 1990). Counselors are also mandated reporters of child abuse, and may also breach confidentiality and privacy when a child is likely to harm him/ her self or other students. Counselors are as well embracing the use of modern technology in counseling for example use of computers but the traditional counseling set up is preferred of counselor client contact. This is not to discredit computer technology but they can be used to complement the traditional styles. It is also very important to acknowledge that there are diverse cultures within schools and counselors should be aware of different values that are held by different cultures. Counselors should also be aware of boundary issues especially those regarding sex. You may find some students becoming attached to counselors emotionally in a way that is not appropriate. This should not be encouraged and counselors should let their clients know that their profession does not provide for intimacy and if the counselor feels they may not be able to help such students referral to another counselor is deemed necessary.
For students to develop a trusting relationship with a counselor, one that will enable them to share their problems they would often want to know if what they share would be just between them and the counselor. In such instances the American School counselor Association (1984) identifies three situations when confidentiality might be broken, which includes: when a client is a danger to self or others, the client or parents requests that information be related to a third party, and when a court orders a counselor to disclose information. It is very common to find parents wanting to know what their child shared in counseling in our school, yet there issues when it is best if the student told their parents themselves. The counselor finds herself in a dilemma trying to choose what is ethical and what is legal.
Schools have a responsibility to provide for all the needs of their student. Another way in which they provide for students needs is through health services. A school may hire a school nurse or liaise with health systems outside their school to provide healthcare for their students. Where school nurses are hired they may find themselves in situations where they are faced with court cases which are directly related to the services they offer to students.
Schwab and Gelfman (2001) identified three causes of liability on a school nurse. This includes: failures to perform adequate assessment, intervene effectively in emergencies and document evidence of appropriate nursing care. In every profession there are set standards within which professionals practice. Nursing is no exception and if a nurse is found guilty of not adhering to set standards their practicing licenses may be suspended and even worse revoked. They may also be subjected to a criminal investigation for actions such as stealing drugs or practicing without a license (Schwab and Gelfman, 2001). Nurses will more often than not find themselves in conflict with parents. This is due to the fact that parents have their own expectations of what the nurses should be doing. To avoid such conflicts nurses should encourage and cultivate respectful ways of communicating with parents making them aware of what they can do and what they do and to welcome parents views on different issues.
In regard to medication depending on the laws governing that area nurses can only administer drugs but they cannot dispense. Medication in schools should only be administered when it is a requirement for the students to enable him/her access education or when a student has a serious problem. Nurses should ensure that the right dosage is taken according to prescription. The healthcare personnel should by all means provide the best care to meet the different health needs of their clients and document everything. By doing the right thing nurses will protecting themselves and the school from litigations by always doing the right thing. In a situation where the nurse in our school feels medication should be dispensed she calls the parent to take the child to a doctor.
In the modern world technology is becoming part of every system. Schools are no exceptional and the administrators should embrace information technology and use it in a way that will benefit students without posing any danger. Since this is a new issue administrators should brace themselves with the laws that protect the use of modern technology in the learning environment so that they can be accountable.
School administrators need to understand and be prepared because there is always a potentiality that they will find themselves in court. Tronc (1996) have recommended five resources in which administrators should be aware of. These includes: understanding the court and jury system; supporting and working effectively with attorneys, appreciating the nuances of litigations reclining the potential risk of litigation by understanding and practicing preventive law; and assisting in the legal process by serving as an expert witness. Notably it is the administrator responsibility to ensure that all the staff under them are aware of the laws and therefore act accordingly to prevent incidences that may lead to litigations (Kotter, 1999).
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Drug, Legal Issues and Schools: Principles guide (2000) Department of Education, Employment and Training. Victoria.
Huey, W., Remley, Theodore T. (1990). Ethical and Legal Issues in School Counseling. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.
Kelly, B. (1998) Legal Basics. A handbook for Educators.
Kotter, J. P. (1999). What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review Book.
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Schwab, N.C. & Gelfman, N.H. (Ed.) (2001). Legal Issues in School Health Services: A resource for School Nurses, Administrators and Attorneys. North Branch, M.N: Sunrise River Press.
Shoop, R. J. & Dunklee, D. R. (2005). What Every Education Leader should Know About Legal Actions. Anatomy of a Lawsuit
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